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Virginia Secretary of Education Visits Local Schools

Bucknell's Reading Program and Whitman's IB programs highlighted.

Virginia Secretary of Education Belle Wheelan gets a lot of invitations to schools and said, "I take advantage of those invitations whenever I can."

Her most recent visit was initiated by State Delegate Kris Amundson (D-44).

"Kris told me, 'I've got a couple of cool things for you to see,'"said Wheelan.

Those two things were the Reading First program at Bucknell Elementary School and the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP) program at Walt Whitman Middle School.

Accompanying Wheelan were Amundson , State Senator Linda "Toddy" Puller (D-36), Incoming Fairfax County School Board Member Dan Storck and Legislative Assistant Heath Bumgardner.

The first stop was to Bucknell, which received the Reading First Grant in September from the U.S. Department of Education. This was part of a subgrant totaling $2,792,650. These grants have been awarded to 14 school divisions, including $224,845 to Fairfax Countyís Bucknell Elementary.

Reading First, a component of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, was designed to provide resources for scientifically based reading programs to help students in those schools as well as teacher training in reading.

"These sub-grants will help provide additional tools and resources to ensure that all children are reading on grade level by the end of the third grade," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jo Lynne DeMary. "The funds will support critical improvements in classroom reading instruction based on proven methods, screening and diagnosis of reading difficulties, monitoring of student progress, and thorough and high-quality professional development for teachers."

DURING HER VISIT to Bucknell, Wheelan saw this program in action. She also met Linda Mezera, the Reading First coach. They were escorted by Mezera, Principal Joanne Jackson and Assistant Principal Janice Dowe who took them around to several of the classes participating in their reading modules.

"This will give me an opportunity to show how well you're learning," said Wheelan.

The group stopped at different grade levels, including Tara Bartlett's ESOL class; Carolyn Lennox's K-2 reading class; Dorothy Klieber's second grade class; and Mary Pace's kindergarten class.

It was in the last class where Wheelan, Amundson, Puller and Storck really had a chance to visit with the children. The lesson for that morning was the letter 'N' and the students showed their willingness to learn by participating in the song about the letter. They then showed off their notebooks which depicted different objects starting with the letter 'N.'

After the visit, Jackson said, "It was a wonderful visit. We really enjoyed it. It was the first chance that we'd had to sit down and talk with the Secretary. She was open and helpful and asked some wonderful questions."

THE GROUP THEN MOVED onto Walt Whitman Middle School, where they are currently implementing the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program. This program is a comprehensive, in-depth course of study for students in grades 6-10. It provides a framework of academic rigor in the following eight content areas: Languages (A) and (B), Humanities, Sciences, Mathematics, Technology, Arts and Physical Education.

A statement by International Baccalaureate Middle Years Coordinator, Mount Vernon Pyramid Mary Fee says, "The IBMYP emphasizes interrelatedness among the academic principles to promote a holistic view of knowledge. It also emphasizes the importance of intercultural awareness, language study, and communication. The IBMYP is based on five overarching themes, called Areas of Interaction. They provide a focus for teacher planning and instruction."

Fee, along with Walt Whitman Principal Otha Davis, Director of Guidance Deanna Williamson, greeted the same group that visited Bucknell. Davis ushered Wheelan and the rest of the group into the conference room where he spoke to them about the IBMYP program.

"The middle years IB program is setting high expectations," said Davis. "The students now look at things not only in the Mount Vernon area, but globally as well."

Davis talked about how they've been working to implement this program for the past four years.

"We're here and we're excited about it," said Davis, and later added, "Whitman Middle School is very proud to have been fully authorized as an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, which also includes grades 7 through l0. We are committed to promoting an international understanding of education through a balanced curriculum with a strong emphasis on integrating the IB Areas of Interaction and the personal development of our students."

IN RESPONSE TO a question by Puller about whether or not the IB course were optional, Fee said that the program is inclusive and all middle year students are involved. The difference is when they continue onto high school, the students who decide to become certificate candidates will have additional things to do. As of now, students are not eligible for certification; the program has to be in existence three years after being authorized. Fee said that they were going to be doing a pilot program with the Freshman so that they could go through the process.

One of the things that Fee was particularly excited about were the mini-personal projects that some of the eighth graders had just completed.

"It made them do something creative and draw on all their knowledge," said Fee. "It was a chance to come at content from different directions."

After the meeting in the conference room, the group had a chance to review some of the projects that the students had completed. They covered a breadth of subject topics and medium.

"For the first time out, we're very pleased. The students were very excited and took pride in it," said Fee.